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“I’m in the wrong job and I want to figure out what the right one would be.” He had a winning smile, bright, penetrating eyes, and a capable, confident manner. I could see why he had gotten into Harvard Law School. He was the real thing. His law firm would miss him. But after 3 1/2 years in litigation, he was ready to rethink his career direction. Javed was off to a good start in his career: He knew his job was wrong. This was in contrast to quite a few lawyers I work with, who begin with a tangle of undefined depression and weariness. After trying for years to unravel the cause by themselves, or with the help of spouses or friends who are tired of hearing about it, they call on me to help solve the mystery. All they can say is that they are unhappy and they don’t know why. Javed had chosen the law because “Hey, who could turn down Harvard Law School?” He did not like law school, but he did well enough. Maybe he would like the practice of law. So he went to a large law firm that had a good reputation for quality of life. But during his three years of lawyering, he just wasn’t happy. For Javed, the work lacked creativity. He knew he was a “people person,” and he just did not get enough interaction with people. He wasn’t particularly interested in legal problem solving, case law, or legal issues. He looked at the partners and realized he did not want their jobs. Big money did not motivate him. He wanted a job that was fun, with goals he could relate to and roles that he would enjoy. He was experiencing a personality mismatch with the law and he needed to retrench. But where did he want to go? Finding the way out of the woods is not always simple and clear. In libraries and bookstores, there are scads of books about careers. They’re like road maps for the general public. For many people, however, the mystery is how these roads relate to their own specific needs. To get out of the woods, you can try designing your own road map based on your unique personality, priorities, philosophies, and needs. To help a client create his or her own road map out of the woods, career counselors evaluate the following factors: aptitude, interest, lifestyle, and self-actualization. AILS are four predictors for a satisfying career. Aptitude means you are good at it. It comes easily to you. You don’t have to work too hard to “get it.” People often compliment you on your abilities in this area. Interest means you love it, love thinking about it, doing it, spending time on it, and it hardly feels like work. When you have an interest in your work, you can’t believe people actually pay you to do the job. Lifestyle refers to the way you get to live or have to live if you do this job. Lifestyle encompasses such factors as compensation, hours, commute time, travel for work and other factors that are the byproduct of your job and affect your quality of life outside of work. Lifestyle issues also impact your immediate family, especially your spouse and children, if you have any. If you have an aptitude and interest in the law, but don’t like the lifestyle, your career move should probably be within the law. Self-actualization refers to the way you are developing as a person. Are you feeling fulfilled? Do you like the person you are becoming? Is the workplace culture reasonably good for you? People are like plants. Plants need a particular mix of sunlight and nutrients to grow well. Shade plants do not do well in the sun. People need a variety of environments and personal experiences to thrive. Some work-worlds can be deadly places for the people who spend time there. For self-actualization, ask yourself what is the likelihood that this type of workplace will “grow you” in a way that promotes your developmental needs? These four factors are valuable for diagnosing what ails you when you feel unhappy with your work life. Of course, different people need different amounts of each of these elements. Some people get along just fine without thinking too much about self-actualization, but other people will not be content unless their work life is a mission to improve the world, or unless they experience personal growth through their jobs. Some people really have to have the interest factor. Others cannot survive without aptitude. Clients may articulate other strong needs that do not fit nicely within the AILS rubric. Nonetheless, I have learned that boosting the supply of AILS factors is a good predictor of career satisfaction. Although Javed had an aptitude for the law, he did not relish thinking legal thoughts, had no interest in the lifestyle of a career lawyer at a large firm, and felt insufficient self-actualization. Javed’s need for self-actualization was great, and he insisted on a lifestyle that met his personal need to be with his family and enjoy time off from work. His need for greater interest, lifestyle, and self-actualization outweighed his aptitude for the law. Our next challenge was to get him into a field that was more likely to supply his needs in all four areas. We began that search with a series of sessions devoted to work history, personal history and a set of exercises in a workbook that helps us to identify recurrent themes. As is often the case, strong career themes that emerged, and there were indications from his family relationships and in his psychological profile that suggested certain career directions that we should explore and others that we should avoid. We constructed a list of the needs that had crystallized in our sessions, and Javed assigned a weight to each item. We ended up with a measuring tool that represented his particular career profile. Next, we used this profile to grade his current job and see what was missing. His workplace flunked in a number of areas to which he assigned the highest value. This phase of our work helped Javed to understand why he was so unhappy at his current workplace. The picture that had emerged thus far was one that ideally had Javed working with younger adults in some kind of sports activity setting, in the role of the teacher, adviser, counselor, manager, caretaker, problem-solver. He needed to work with ethical people and he required honesty. He needed a lot of interpersonal interaction. He would be good with blue collar, salt-of-the-earth sorts of people. These were only some of the factors that became clear as we continued our work. Next, we looked for potential jobs that seemed to match Javed’s road map. I suggested a number of jobs that sounded interesting, and Javed researched them by reading books and talking to people who were in the jobs he thought he wanted to do. He brought information back for us to consider in our sessions, but what was equally important, he discussed his reactions to each job he heard about. We used his list to make educated guesses about whether he would have his needs met at these jobs and to discuss what he was willing to give up and what continued to be bedrock elements. We ruled out potential jobs that sounded good in the abstract but did not offer Javed enough of what he needed or had too much potential to fail in an area of importance for him. Sports management emerged as the winning career path for Javed. He located a masters program with an excellent reputation for post-graduate job placements. It can be a good idea to reboot your career with more education, especially if you are pursuing a new career direction unrelated to the law, or you are trying to move into a radically different legal practice area. Returning to school not only helps you to establish your credibility and sincere interest in this field, but also can help you to develop new contacts in the “neighborhood” you are trying to join. Javed’s program begins in the fall. He is excited about his new career direction and, given the AILS equation, he has a high likelihood of success and career satisfaction. Sheila Nielsen is a nationally recognized career counselor specializing in attorneys. A lawyer and a social worker by training, she counsels lawyers on a wide variety of issues, as well as those changing jobs or careers. Her business, Nielsen Consulting Service, is located in Chicago. She can be reached at (312) 616-4416. Clients discussed in this column are composites, and all names have been changed.

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